Total deployment ban to Libya looms – Labor chief

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Libyan National Army (LNA) members, commanded by Khalifa Haftar, pose for a picture as they head out of Benghazi to reinforce the troops advancing to Tripoli, in Benghazi, Libya April 7, 2019. Esam Omran Al-Fetori, Reuters

MANILA – The labor department will ban the deployment of Filipino workers to Libya once it receives an official announcement that the alert level there has been raised due to a battle for the capital, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said Wednesday. 

Forty-seven people have been killed and 181 were wounded in recent days as eastern Libyan National Army (LNA) forces seek to take Tripoli from an internationally-recognized government, the World Health Organization said. 

Ambassador Elmer Cato has been quoted as saying in media reports that several districts of Libya were placed under Alert Level 3, which is considered a "voluntary repatriation" phase. 

This, however, is not an official advisory that the labor department can cite in banning the deployment of overseas Filipino workers, said Bello. 

The government is still allowing OFWs with active contracts to return to Libya, he said. 

"Hinihintay namin ang official advise from the Department of Foreign Affairs kung anong alert level talaga," Bello told radio DZMM. 

(We are waiting for official advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs about the real alert level.) 

"'Pag nakakuha kami ng (once we get an) advise ng Alert Level 3 na, we will come up with a board resolution banning the deployment of overseas workers to Libya," he added. 

DFA may release the official announcement "anytime today", the official said. 

Libya is home to around 1,000 Filipinos, according to a DFA bulletin released last week. Many of the OFWs there are nurses or workers in oil fields, said Bello. 

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In central Tripoli, while there were no signs yet of military and security vehicles or personnel on the streets, shops and cafes were closing earlier than usual in the evening and residents were apprehensive about the prospect of violence.

"War is war: I am not afraid of the Libyan National Army, but I am afraid of the destruction that will never be reconstructed," said Mohamed Salem al-Sharwe, a taxi driver in Tripoli.

The LNA forces of Khalifa Haftar – a former general in ousted strongman Muammar Gaddafi's army – seized the sparsely populated but oil-rich south earlier this year before heading toward Tripoli this month.

They are fighting on the southern side of the city, where witnesses said on Monday afternoon the LNA had lost control of a former airport and withdrawn down the road.

The government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, who has run Tripoli since 2016 as part of a UN-brokered deal that Haftar boycotted, is seeking to repel the LNA with the help of armed groups from Misrata. 

Serraj's forces carried out an air strike on an LNA position in the suburb of Suq al-Khamis on Tuesday, a resident and an eastern military source said, without giving more details.

The renewed conflict threatens to disrupt oil supplies, boost migration across the Mediterranean to Europe and scupper UN plans for an election to end rivalries between parallel administrations in east and west. 

With a report from Reuters 

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